USAT Meigs

The USAT Meigs (sometimes incorrectly called USS Meigs) was a United States Army transport ship that was built in 1921 and sunk in Darwin Harbour in the first Japanese air raid against the Australia mainland on 19 February 1942.

SS West Lewark, later USAT Meigs
United States
  • West Lewark (1921–22)
  • USAT Meigs (1922–42)
Ordered: Before September 1919
Builder: Los Angeles Shipbuilding & Dry Dock Co
Laid down: 30 July 1920
Launched: 24 February 1921
Completed: June 1921
Acquired: by US Army 1922
Out of service: 19 February 1942
Renamed: 1922
Fate: Sunk by Japanese air attack, 1942
General characteristics
Tonnage: 7,358 GRT, 5,310 NRT[1]
Displacement: 11,358 tons
Length: 430.7 ft (131.3 m)[1]
Beam: 54.3 ft (16.6 m)[1]
Draft: 26.2 ft (8.0 m)[1]
Installed power: 422 NHP[1]
Propulsion: 3-cylinder triple-expansion steam engine,[1] single screw
Sensors and
processing systems:
wireless direction finding


The ship's keel was laid 30 July 1920[2] by the Los Angeles Shipbuilding and Dry Dock Company (later Todd Pacific Shipyards) at San Pedro, California[3] and completed in 1921 for the United States Shipping Board as West Lewark. She had a steel hull, measured 7,358 GRT (also cited as 11,358 DWT),[3] 430.7 ft (131.3 m), 54.3 ft (16.6 m) beam and 26.2 ft (8.0 m) depth.[1][4] The ship's construction was canceled in 1919 but she was then completed to a larger and different design than the originally planned Design 1013[5] and launched 24 February 1921.[6] She was evaluated for naval use with a temporary designation of IX-4490.[7][8]

Peacetime service

After delivery the ship was operated by the Williams, Diamond & Company, Pacific Coast shippers for the Pacific Coast-European trade.[9] Cargo handling equipment had been designed in light of the fact that many ports lacked sufficient handling equipment ashore to enable efficient cargo operations and initial service demonstrated increased efficiency.[10] West Lewark and sister ship, West Faralon were placed in the company's Pacific Coast-European trade with West Lewark making an initial port call at Glasgow, Scotland.[10] In 1922 the Army acquired the ship and renamed her Meigs.[5]

USAT Meigs was one of the small fleet the Army maintained during the inter-war years and operated in the Pacific[4] as a freight and animal transport.[11] In 1939, with USAT Ludington, Meigs was one of only two Army owned freight transports.[11] Included in the requirement to transport army goods and personal possessions of personnel changing duty stations to the Pacific was transport of cavalry and personal horses of officers with occasional mention of the ship transporting notable horses or owners transferring between Pacific and continental postings.[12][13] In July 1938 Meigs found an oil slick along the course of the lost Pan American flying boat Hawaii Clipper about 500 miles from Manila, took samples and stood by for further investigation.[14]

War service

Shortly before the US entry into the World War II the ship was given the tentative Navy hull number AK-34 under an agreement that Navy would take over, commission and crew Army transports operating in area of potential naval opposition. The reality of war resulted in a December 1941 Presidential order suspending that agreement and the hull number is listed by Navy as "not used."[5]

USAT Meigs was part of the Pensacola Convoy attempting to reinforce the Philippines in the early stages of the Pacific War and held at Fiji when it was evident the Japanese were already invading the Philippines. Despite a military decision to bring the convoy back to Hawaii or the West Coast a presidential decision routed the ships to Australia to attempt Philippine support from there.[15] She returned to Darwin after being part of an abortive convoy that departed 15 February escorted by USS Houston and smaller escorts bound to reinforce Portuguese Timor.[16]

On 19 February 1942 Japanese planes attacked Darwin's land and shipping targets in two waves.[17] The Meigs, one of six ships sunk, with one of its crew of 66 killed after being struck by a number of bombs and aerial torpedoes.[18]


Although the superstructure of the wreck was salvaged after the war by Fujita Salvage of Osaka, Japan, the cargo of munitions, railway rails, Bren gun carriers and trucks intended for Allied forces in Portuguese Timor remains. The Meigs is now a dive site, where the remnants of the cargo are as visible as the remains of the vessel itself. It lies in 18 metres (59 ft)[19] of water at coordinates 12°29.26′S 130°49.10′E,[20] and due to the large tidal movements creating strong currents and poor visibility, is only divable around neap tides.


The name USS Meigs is incorrectly applied to the USAT Meigs and also, properly, to the USS General M. C. Meigs (AP-116), which served in the Korean War.

There was also a small Quartermaster Corps passenger and freight steamer built in 1892 by John H. Dialogue & Son, Camden New Jersey, and serving in the early 20th century named General Meigs.[21][22]


  1. Lloyds (1931–32). "Lloyd's Register" (PDF). Lloyd's Register, Steamers & Motorships. Lloyd's Register (through PlimsollShipData). Retrieved 22 September 2014.
  2. Dickie, Alexander J; Stanley, Frank A (1921). "Los Angeles Shipbuilding & Dry Dock Company". Pacific Marine Review. 18 (January): 54. Retrieved 28 December 2011.
  3. T. Colton. "Todd Pacific Shipyards, San Pedro CA". Archived from the original on 10 February 2012. Retrieved 28 December 2011.
  4. Grover, David (1987). US Army Ships and Watercraft of World War II. Naval Institute Press. pp. 6, 26 & 29. ISBN 0-87021-766-6.)
  5. Stephen S. Roberts. "MEIGS (AK-34)". Shipscribe. Retrieved 28 December 2011.
  6. Dickie, Alexander J; Stanley, Frank A (1921). "Los Angeles Shipbuilding & Dry Dock Company". Pacific Marine Review. 18 (April): 244. Retrieved 28 December 2011.
  7. NavSource. "USAT Meigs ex-West Lewark (ID 4490)". NavSource Online: Section Patrol Craft Photo Archive. Archived from the original on 15 May 2012. Retrieved 28 December 2011.
  8. Naval History and Heritage Command. "S.S. West Lewark (American Freighter, 1921)". Online Library of Selected Images. Department of the Navy. Retrieved 28 December 2011.
  9. "Satisfactory Results Favor Trials of West Lewark on Pacific Coast". Marine Engineering and Shipping Age. Aldrich Publishing Company. XXVI: 642. August 1921. Retrieved 28 December 2011.
  10. Marine Journal (1921). "Third Sister Makes Her Debut". Marine Journal. New York: Edgar Pennington Young. 44 (October 8, 1921): 31. Retrieved 23 February 2015.
  11. Larson, Harold (1945). The Army's Cargo Fleet in World War II. Cffice of the Chief of Transportation, Army Service Forces. pp. 1, 9 & 26. Retrieved 28 December 2011.
  12. Rust, Richard R. (2008). Renegade Champion: The Unlikely Rise of Fitzrada. Lanham Maryland: Taylor Trade Publishing. p. 80. ISBN 978-158979379-8. Retrieved 29 December 2011.
  13. Sorley, Lewis (2011). Westmoreland: The General Who Lost Vietnam. New York City: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. p. 12. ISBN 978-0-547-51826-8. Retrieved 29 December 2011.
  14. AP News (30 July 1938). "Telltale Surface on Ocean Found by Transport Meigs" (pdf). The Sun. Retrieved 28 December 2011.
  15. Morton, Lewis (1993). United States Army in World War II-The War in the Pacific-The Fall of the Philippines. Washington, D.C.: Center of Military History, United States Army. pp. 145–146. Retrieved 29 December 2011.
  16. "Naval Events, February 1942, Part 2 of 2 Sunday 15th – Saturday 28th". Retrieved 29 December 2011.
  17. "The war at home: Second World War shipwrecks in Australian waters". Australian Government. Archived from the original on 27 February 2012. Retrieved 28 December 2011.
  18. "The United States Army Transport (USAT) Meigs underway in Darwin Harbour". Picture Australia. National Library of Australia. Retrieved 28 December 2011.
  19. "World War II Wrecks". Darwin Diver Center. Archived from the original on 21 September 2008. Retrieved 4 March 2009.
  20. "World War II Shipwrecks". Northern Territory Government, Australia. Archived from the original on 6 October 2009. Retrieved 4 March 2009.
  21. Fiftieth Annual List of Merchant Vessels of the United States, Year ended June 30, 1918. Washington, D.C.: Department of Commerce, Bureau of Navigation. 1918. p. 497. Retrieved 17 December 2018.
  22. Colton, Tim (18 May 2016). "John H. Dialogue & Son, Camden NJ". ShipbuildingHistory. Retrieved 17 December 2018.


See also

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